It seemed unreal when she was talking about going on the magnificent pilgrimage – Camino for a month. Now, it seems unreal that she walked almost 930 kilometers and she returned home richer in this great adventure. I made an interview with Snežana. Enjoy reading!
How was your normal day?
I woke up somewhere between half past five and six o’clock. Usually, other peregrinos (pilgrims) were already awakened. They were trying to leave the bedroom as quickly and as quietly as possible not to disturb the sleeping ones. It is unbelievable that I was happy as soon as I opened my eyes every day (but truly EVERY day) because I was looking forward to a brand new day, a brand new adventure.
All my life my first thought in the morning has been about the peculiarities regarding the upcoming day. What will the weather be like? Who will I meet? What do I have to cook for lunch? When will I come home? Do I have any errands to run before coming home? Often, I would rather stay in bed curled under the sheets. On Camino trail there are no morning thoughts. You are honestly happy and thrilled to wake up to a new day. As there it was completely dark at 6 a.m. I had to look out the window in order to learn whether it was raining or not. The weather was lousy more than a half of the days I spent on Camino. It was cold, cloudy and rainy. Meseta was hot, Galicia hazy, I even experienced a blizzard in O’Cebreiru. Surprisingly, the weather did not affect the mood I was in. I even wondered how mysterious walking in the fog is or how beautiful the wet landscape with shines of the sun is, how wonderful the forest in the rain is or how pleasant the smell of wet eucalyptus is.
Furthermore, the blizzard on O’Cebreiru was the best event I have ever experienced in the mountains.
In our ordinary life we are constantly disturbed by the weather and are constantly complaining if it is raining, if it is too hot or too cold. At Christmas we want snow but when there is snow in April everything goes wrong. At Camino the weather doesn’t matter even though you are exposed to it all day. It simply doesn’t affect your mood.
As soon as you open your eyes in the morning a strong force pulls you to start walking as soon as possible. This is almost like with sailing; when in the morning you cannot wait to leave the harbor. I do not know how to name this force that pulls you ahead and seems to be in all of us, and certainly in all peregrinos. This force urged me every morning while I was washing to embark on the path on an empty stomach as soon as possible. Somewhere after the five-kilometer walk I stopped for a breakfast. After breakfast I continued walking and after about ten kilometers I treated myself to a morning snack, which should be plentiful that it was sufficient for the next five to ten kilometers of walk. No later than after twenty-five kilometers, it was time for lunch.
I left about ten kilometers to walk after lunch, during which I took time for an afternoon snack. I walked around thirty-five kilometers before I came to my daily goal where I stopped in albergue. Almost all albergues were on the way. At the beginning we always chose the first one which was on site. Later we started to choose smaller ones such for 20 to 40 people. Lodging was always followed by taking a shower, changing our clothes and compulsory smearing foot cream on our feet. My feet were the most important so I paid special attention and care to them, just like all peregrinos. This was followed by dinner. In smaller towns dinner was at seven p.m., larger resorts had bars with all-day functioning kitchens, so you could go for a dinner immediately after taking a shower. Dinner is a very important meal of each peregrino.
I read that great physical exertions during the day spend all the glycogen from the muscles, so you have to consume a rich meal after the effort that regenerates your body overnight. Before, during and after dinner in albergue I socialized with other peregrinos and at around ten o’clock I went to bed. It was the same almost every day. Every day I walked for about eight hours, I slept for eight hours and I spent eight hours for eating, drinking, personal hygiene and resting.
A young peregrino described our day very juicy, when we were waiting for dinner one afternoon after taking a shower. We placed our bare feet on the grass and groaned with pleasure. And then we heard the Belgian Thomas, who works in Brussels in a shelter for refugees, wiggling with his long dreadlocks saying in disbelief: “We walk, walk, walk and drink and walk, walk and eat and walk, walk and walk and sleep, and all the time we are extremely happy. We all must be fucking idiots, “and he laughed loudly, followed by the rest of us, when the old Korean man, whose name I could not remember, concluded:” That is fucking true. “
What is more important on the way: thinking or perception? Is the path spiritual or tourist? What makes the path different from the other one-month vacation?
The route is as you plan it. You can travel as a tourist because there is enough infrastructure along the way. You may decide to sleep in hotels, visit all the tourist attractions along the way or that you want to walk a part of the paths, and to travel a part of them by a bus or a taxi. Tourist agencies and various religious associations organize such so-called “pilgrimages”.
This way of “pilgrimage” was performed by more than 262,000 peregrinos, who received Compostela as the confirmation that they have walked over The Way of Saint James in 2015. Everyone who passes at least the last 100 km (and even then only some shorter passages) or cycles for at least the last 200 km of the route to Santiago, receives such a confirmation. For us, “long distance” peregrinos, these people were “short distance” tourist peregrinos. They are taken by a bus to a starting point, walk a few kilometers to the place where the bus waits and takes them for lunch, sightseeing and to the Church to Mass for peregrinos and later to the hotel to stay overnight. And the next day the story repeats until they walk (i.e. are driven) to Santiago. At first glance they differ from “real” peregrinos, “long distance” walkers – freshly ironed white T-shirts, new sneakers, without heavy backpacks, walking in large groups, shouting over each other and having fun. These were tourists, holidaymakers and they were disturbing to us – “long distance” walkers. We rushed forward to walk in front of them in silence, in peace, in our own thoughts.
In the mornings we tried to run them away. But we couldn’t. We always caught new and new groups, until they did not walk for that day metered kilometers. It was good that this was happening massively only the last 100 km before Santiago and that they did not walk at least in the afternoon. The full path Camino Frances, which is the most popular version of Camino, whose starting point is the French Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the foot of Pyrenees, and it ends at the end of the world, in FISTERRA at the Atlantic coast is 930 km long (according to Endomondo app) and in my opinion it is walked by very few peregrines, who are certainly not tourists.
Is there a moment on this trail when you stop dealing with yourself and start being interested in other people?
Great treasure of the trail is that you take time for yourself. When I look back in the past years of my life I feel that I was devoting myself to others all these years, I was adjusting myself from day to day and was placing their needs and wishes before my wishes and my needs. I felt that I deserved this month to stop and think about myself, about my wishes. And I found out that I am an excellent company to myself. You walked, almost all the way alone, at your own pace, without adjustment. When you wanted to slow down, you slowed down, when you wanted to hurry up, you hurried up. Walking along this trail you were doing what you wanted, not what you had to. You even walked because you wanted to, not because you had to. I went there together with my cousin, we left albergue together in the morning, walked individually, at our own pace, stopped in the same bar for breakfast, lunch and settled in the same albergue. After lodging there was time for socializing with other peregrinos and sometimes our conversation lasted late into the night. During the day while walking you caught up a peregrino, or you were passed by the other. After the obligatory greeting Buen Camino, which was certainly accompanied by a spontaneous smile, you exchanged some words, sometimes the conversation was stretched to some kilometers of walking together, sometimes in a few sections in more days. You met with certain peregrinos every day.
Peregrinos talked to each other mostly about themselves, about their life, wishes and desires, less about land and culture from which they originate. Everyone revealed their own story, their own experience, wishes and desires spontaneously, and everyone listened to the story, wishes and aspirations of the others. On Camino you are just peregrino – a person who is and wants to be happy. How many times have I thought of the idea of Anne Frank, which impressed me in my childhood, when I read her diary. I do not remember it more literally, it goes something like this: “How different are people and yet completely the same. We all live in order to be happy.”
What trouble happened to peregrinos you met on the path? Does this trouble connect more than a common dinner?
Peregrinos were strongly connected from the first day onwards. We were connected by Camino’s call and our decision that we would listen to that call and walk the trail. From all around the world, from different cultures, different races, speaking different languages we all were connected with Camino. I physically felt our connection during the blessing of peregrinos, when we were standing in a circle (we were about twenty) and we were passing a burning candle from hand to hand. When you were holding a candle in your hand, you should stare into the flame and you should say in your own language what you wish should be fulfilled on Camino.
On a pilgrimage we were connected so strongly that we experienced someone else’s trouble as our own trouble. How did Hemingway write? Something like this: “Do not ask whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee! ” We all joined forces to help a peregrino in trouble in the best way, in any case, just like you would help yourself. And it seemed to us self-evident. Each of us peregrinos was immensely grateful for the help. When my husband and I helped a young German woman Julia, who was on her way with her three-year old son, Henry, to replace the tube in a pram and I was, meanwhile, playing with her son, she was in a sign of gratitude hugging and thanking. She explained even to her son that we helped them so he should thank us with hugs. One day Seena from Finland came to me to say thanks because in the evening when I put my wet shoes on the radiator I saw one more pair of wet shoes on the floor. I did not know whose they were but I picked them up and put them onto the radiator next to mine to dry. In the morning she woke up when I had already gone and found her shoes dry on the radiator. She concluded that I set them on the radiator and the whole morning she rushed to catch me and to thank. At Camino all things are potentiated, even gratitude.
What to do if you get sick on the way? Is it possible to lie down for a few days to pass the viral infection or that your ankle stops hurting?
The biggest fear of every peregrino is that something like this might happen and you will not be able to finish the way. We all had some medication in our backpacks in case we need it. I had antibiotics, tablets for urinary tract inflammation, Brufen for the inflammation of the muscles but luckily there was no need to use anything. I only gave Brufen to one American who asked me for. Otherwise we helped each other like that: in the case of an upset stomach – someone who had medicine for that trouble wrote the name of the tablets he had. With the help of the internet or call to his doctor the patient decided whether he would take the pills or not.
How do you hikers on the Path overcome fatigue, health problems, monotony, loneliness, black thoughts or euphoria? Are emotional outbursts common? If so, why?
Peregrines are in a strange state of body and mind on the Camino. Somehow you feel that you turned off your brain because you do not need them. All that is required is that you walk following the yellow arrow. When you turn off your brain to the minimum, your senses start to operate at the maximum. It is interesting that for about twenty years, with the exception of extremely strong odour, I could smell nothing. I thought this was because of my longtime smoking. After fifteen years of non-smoking on the Camino my sense of smell returned and I kept it even now, when I returned home.
That is to say, the brain is at the minimum, senses and emotions at the maximum. Thoughts come and go by themselves (I wonder where from?). Until the Camino I could not understand the mysteries of the fox in Little Prince: “Whoever wants to see clearly must look with his heart.” I absolutely could not imagine how to look with your heart. Camino makes it easy that this happens. At some point I realized that you look with your heart all the time.
What is the system of pilgrim hostels albergues?
Albergues used to be only in the state property and relatively untidy since I read that as a rule you found bedbugs in albergues, bathrooms and toilets were dirty and there was no hot water available. When the Spanish Government recognized that pilgrims bring quite amount of money to northern Spain they improved conditions and control in albergues. In addition, private albergues stared to be open as albergues could be more profitable business than a hotel so recently they have started to spring up like mushrooms after the rain. Let’s say that you put four bunk beds into a room that is the size of an average hotel room and get 80 euros a night. If you’ve got five such rooms, you get EUR 400 a night, whereby one must take into account that these rooms do not have their own bathrooms, but shared bathrooms. There is no cost of linen washing, the personnel is only one man at the reception desk and even that one only in the afternoon, when albergue opens till the time it is full or until the time when the light is turned off.
In all albergues there is the applicable rule that hiking boots are stored in a separate room immediately after entering. You can sleep only one night in the same albergue and you must have the pilgrimage passport, which you get at the beginning of the path, and every night you get a stamp, the date and signature as a proof, that you slept there. In most albergues lights are turned off at 10 p.m. and turned on at 6 a.m.
In albergues, were there always enough beds? Always enough food? Is it adapted to all tastes and limitations about food?
You must not come in albergue later than at five o’clock. If that happened you could find a sign completo, which means that albergue is full and you have to walk until the next one. If it is in the same city, you’re lucky, otherwise you still have a couple of kilometers to walk to the next albergue. In high season, July and August should be an even bigger problem with accommodation. I experienced the greatest distress for beds the first night after Burgos because all the “old” peregrinos which usually sleep in Burgos joined the crowd of fledgling peregrinos who began the path just in Burgos.
We did not need to worry about food much. I put only a banana or an apple into my backpack if I knew that there’s no bar more than two hours of walk. After my experience with the lack of food when I was one day walking and walking and passed the only bar and breakfast after five kilometers from the accommodation, and the next was twelve kilometers ahead, I added two energy bars into my backpack. Just in case. After walking for seventeen kilometers on an empty stomach I already had mist over eyes and I could hardly drag myself up to the bar.
Otherwise, there are enough bars along the route. Most of them are nice, with customized offer for peregrinos: in the morning you get a breakfast or desayunos in Spanish, which can be tostada (toasted bread), which is, of course, a baguette because you can not see any other bread as baguettes on the whole Camino route. You walk through the granary of Spain but you do not see any black or whole meal bread. A portion was a third of a baguette, toasted and cut in half, with butter and jam. If you decide for boccadillo (sandwich), it was also made of a third of a baguette with ham, cheese, the egg omelette. Almost everywhere eggs with bacon or ham were offered. Throughout the day they offer croassane (croissants, puff pastry), muffins, tortilla and Saint James cake, made of almonds. In larger bars you got these sweet treats freshly baked daily, in smaller bars they offered packaged sweets, with a longer shelf life. On the way I kept dreaming about fried eggs with sunny side up, even if I never eat them at home for breakfast. As they say, you have to listen to your body and I enjoyed in eating eggs for breakfast almost every day. For breakfast you drink natural orange juice, coffee, tea or cocoa, but most peregrinos decided for grande café con lecche (large coffee with milk). Usually bananas are also sold in bars and we all ate them diligently, mainly due to potassium. I had a banana, an apple and a lemon for mid-morning and afternoon snack. Regarding supplements I took magnesium every day because you have supposedly a much higher consumption at increased physical activity. I noticed that most of peregrinos added magnesium powder in their diet.
What you ate for lunch depended on where you were located at lunchtime. If you were in the city you could fine a paella (Spanish risotto), a pizza, an egg omelet, tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) ensalada mixta (big plate of lettuce, tomato, corn and tuna). If we were in a small village we ate boccadillo (sandwich) and some tomatoes.
A typical dinner of peregrinos, the peregrino menu, which was offered everywhere, was the main daily meal of peregrinos. It consists of three courses: an appetizer, which could be ensalada mixta, pasta or risotto, the main dish, where you can choose between beef, pork, chicken, vegetable main dish and fish, and dessert, usually a flan (caramelised custard ), an ice cream, a rice pudding or fruit. The price ranges between 9 and 12 euros, and also covers drinks, water and wine. It is interesting that a full bottle of wine was brought to each table, of course, the red one and then you drank as much as you could. I do not know why but I have to say that with the very first glass of wine you get quite drunk. On Camino everything is intensified, even drunkenness :-).
How did you wash and dry your clothes and aired your footwear?
Most albergues have washers and dryers. The price for laundering is 3 euros and the price of drying too. Every two to three days we washed and dried almost all our clothes. Just like all other peregrinos, we walked clean, our clothing did not smelt. Sometimes pilgrims, of course, did not have such opportunities, so they say that such unbearable stench was spreading through the cathedral in Santiago that they introduced a 60 pound censer, attached to thick ropes and eight monks swung the rope. One swing extends almost from the ceiling of the cathedral at the far right to the ceiling on the left end of the cathedral. It has such force that it already twice plucked from the rope and flew to the ceiling. Smoke spreads out of it to and in the past it used to remove the stench of pilgrims from the cathedral and today it is a big tourist attraction, so the cathedral is crowded with tourists at daily Mass for the peregrinos at half past seven in the evening.
There were separate areas with shelves in the albergue, where you left your hiking boots immediately after entering the albergue. You were not allowed to go into the bedroom with hiking boots. There were also old newspapers. In the case of wet shoes you put some paper inside and newspaper magically pulls moisture to itself. I was lucky that I stayed in albergues where I could dry them on the radiator when I had wet shoes.
Were there enough outlets for charging mobile phones, laptops and tablets?
In all of albergues there were enough outlets, sometimes even kind of small boxes with a key were mounted on the wall that you could put your phone into to charge it, locked the box and took the key. Although I never experienced that anyone would steal anything in the whole month. In the most modern albergues there was a socket mounted above the bed side table on which you could put down your phone. Some of peregrinos really had a tablet with them but I didn’t see anyone with a notebook. In older albergues the socket distributors were installed so that I actually never had problems with charging my phone.
How did you sleep in a room with several men and women? Have you ever had to wait that a men left the bathroom, that you then could entered into it?
Before going to Camino I was a little worried about sleeping in a dormitory. I had the fear of loud snoring, so I took ear plugs with me. But I never used them. If I ever woke up at night, I really heard some loud breathing, coughing, or sometimes snoring, but these sounds never disturbed me in my sleep. I slept at worst in a Benedictine monastery in Leon, where we had separate male and female dormitories. There were some eighty women in one huge bedroom with a low ceiling and a lot of moisture due to half cellar premises in the centuries old monastery. I do not know how much oxygen we had in the room in the morning. Moreover, it seems to me that the male energy lacked in the bedroom full of female energy for a good sleep 🙂 In albergues there were almost always separate bathrooms and toilets, for men and women. Maybe only in some smaller albergues it happened that we had to share them. I have to admit that I used the men’s rest room several times when woman’s was occupied.
Which finding was stronger: (1) human life does not need much of anything or (2) that a person needs a lot of things to survive? What kind of material things did you miss the most?
I have to add an adjective to each of these two findings so they will be true: happy to the first one, satisfied to the second one. A human being does not need much of anything for a happy life. To survive in a satisfied way we need a lot of things. Satisfaction does not give you happiness, but it is great if you have it:-). In comparison with happiness satisfaction does not fulfill you, it lasts shorter time and it is shallow. On the way the sight at the beautiful nature made me happy. At home my beautiful dress and shoes, with a fitting handbag make me satisfied, give me the feeling of comfort, and satisfy my sense of aesthetics. I missed this satisfaction the most, this feeling when you put on a nice dress, shoes, jewelry, handbag and all together starts to breathe into a new whole, in harmony.
I expected the eruption of joy already in Mount of Joy, just before Santiago. But I could not feel anything special. Maybe I was overwhelmed by the greatest satisfaction in the cathedral in Santiago, during the Mass for peregrinos, when they read that on that day pilgrims from Estados Unidos de América and Eslovenia pilgrimaged all from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago. I knew that I and Marjana were Eslovenia.
But Santiago was not our goal destination, we continued the way up to the Atlantic Ocean. Even when we reached the ultimate goal, I had no special feelings. Again, the spurious quotations turned out to be true: it’s about the journey, not the destination. But I endlessly enjoyed when I was in Finisterre, at the end of the world, and I took off my hiking boots, which passed 930 km long route undamaged.
I stepped barefoot on the white sand and waves of the Atlantic Ocean which were overflowing the beach. Then I finished my pilgrimage according to the pilgrimage rules. I took off my pilgrim clothes and bathed in the sea. The water was ice cold, so I ran out very soon. Then it was time to go to the Cape, where the lighthouse is today but thousands of years ago it was a temple dedicated to the sun, Ara Solis. Here, according to the custom pilgrim clothes are burned and the sunset is observed. For me it was hard to decide what to burn; I attached myself to the clothes that I wore for a month very much. They served so good to me and now I should burn them? Somehow, I decided to sacrifice socks, even though I was very grateful because they did not cause me a single blister. When I arrived to the Cape, the fire was already burning. I also brought a piece of clothes from Slovenia to burn it: a T-shirt in which I accumulated evil that was caused to me by people of dubious quality in the last years. I brought it here, to the end of the world to finally get rid of it. I symbolically burned and throw that away forever. In the blink of an eye it was burned 🙂
Then it was turn for my socks. After burning the pilgrim clothes, in accordance with the custom, I was watching the sunset. After sunset I went to bed and the next morning I woke up as a new person.
Do a lot of people end the pilgrimage before Santiago? What are the reasons?
Yes, many people are forced to end the way too soon. Due to the bloody blisters on the soles of the feet, inflamed tendons, painful and swollen ankles …. Even professional athletes are not safe of inflamed tendons. However, I met a young boy from Finland, who was an active athlete and he came to Camino to collect physical fitness and mental stability. He went home shortly after the beginning because of the inflamed tendon. The Englishman Timothy had to return home due to thrombosis, the Irish girl Doris ended up in the hospital in Burgos due to severe kidney inflammation and one Sweden girl had to go home because of an interview for a new job. On the blog I wrote the story about a Slovenian who died there of a heart attack six days before our arrival to Lorca. On the day when we came to the cross, which marked the place of his death, he should celebrate his 60th birthday.
You probably would not advise newlyweds to choose the Camino as a honeymoon destination, especially if they are not very skilled in finding intimate moments?
I would certainly advise them to go to Camino during the first serious marital crisis. Although there must be quite a few honeymooners who actually come to Camino on their honeymoon holidays. I met a young German couple. The husband prepared dinner to his young wife at the stove in the albergue kitchen. He cooked spaghetti with tuna for her, and she sat at the table, watching him and chatting with other peregrinos. Next time I met a German girl who has been married for five years and came to Camino alone. She spent honeymoon with her husband at Portuguese Camino as they received pilgrimage in Portugal as a wedding gift. After five years of marriage, she came to the Camino Frances alone, since their marriage remained childless and she hoped that prayer at Camino will help them.
Certainly there are also quite a few married couples who met on Camino. I met a French couple, who met at Camino and came back for their third wedding anniversary. I met a Swiss woman and a German man – they met at Camino, married and settled in Germany, and they came back again with a five-year old son and a six-month old daughter.
You’ve already answered the question I have prepared as the next one. Before the journey you read that Camino offers each peregrino a romantic experience. It is obvious that sympathies develop on the way, which might later grow into love and develop even into marriage. On the first part of the way you were accompanied by your husband. Did this guard you of other love experiences?
Shirley MacLaine wrote about that in her book. Actually, it is a fact that Camino offers love experience to every peregrino, it’s just up to you if you grab it or not. She was told about that by a friend, a Brazilian girl, who has already walked the Camino before her. The Brazilian girl accepted the offered love experience without hesitation and has never regretted. Shirley MacLaine was offered the love experience only once, shortly after the beginning of the path, in the form of a young, handsome, black-haired Spaniard, but he refused him. She didn’t know exactly why, at least she didn’t find some good reason for her behavior.
If my husband saved me from other romantic experiences? 🙂 When we were together on the path as well as later, during the time when I was walking alone, it strengthened my conviction that we built a rich and fulfilling relationship throughout our thirty years of marriage because of which it is not difficult to give up many things, even those that might happen on God’s path. 🙂
How did you sleep the first night back home? When you woke up in your bed, were you a different person?
I slept great the first night home. I do not know if I woke up as a different person, definitely I came back as a happy person. I realized that happiness entirely depends on us. This is what I have always been reading about and I didn’t understand it. I understand it now: Happiness is not somewhere in the future, it is here with us, and we should only open ourselves and live this happiness. It depends on me, whether I’m happy or unhappy at a given moment. When I came back, I was also enriched with the gratitude for my body that it is, like it is. And my third awareness, but certainly not the last one, is that the nature in Slovenia is as beautiful as in Spain. I only was not capable to look at it and to admire it.